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Salt Lake City police discipline detective for raid on wrong house

Published February 27, 2013 10:50 am

He led team that blitzed elderly neighbor of suspected coke dealers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Salt Lake City police detective responsible for a SWAT team ramming the door of a wrong house last year and pointing guns at the elderly woman inside also misled the judge who issued the search warrant, according to documents released by the city.

The narcotics detective, Cooper Landvatter, received a 20-hour suspension for violating search-and-seizure policies, committing conduct unbecoming an officer, and violating what the Salt Lake City Police Department refers to as its "Core Values."

"The damage to your reputation as a professional and the collective reputation of the department is not easily repaired," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank wrote in the discipline letter to Landvatter.

Landvatter apparently confused the home where he suspected residents were selling cocaine with the house next door, according to a report by the Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board. The search warrant had the correct address. But Landvatter conducted surveillance and took photographs of the house next door.

The photographs of the wrong house were shown to the SWAT team in a briefing before the raid. No one noticed the house number visible in the photos did not match the address listed on the search warrant.

When police forced their way into the home in the 200 East block of Hubbard Avenue (935 South) and found only a 76-year-old woman inside, they quickly realized their mistake. The woman was not injured.

But the woman's attorney, Stephen Clark, said she has been afraid to return to her home. The city offered to fix the door, Clark said, but has made no other offers and has not answered his requests for information about what went wrong.

"The family doesn't want to have to sue the city," Clark said. "The family doesn't want to have to sue these officers. The family wants an explanation."

An agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was present on the raid. Clark said he also has made requests to the U.S. attorney for Utah about the episode but has received no response. No lawsuits have been filed.

Internal-affairs investigators also found a problem with what Landvatter told the judge who issued the search warrant. Landvatter wrote in an affidavit to the judge that he watched an informant buy drugs from the suspect's home.

But the review board report says Landvatter admitted to investigators that he lost sight of the informant as he went up the stairs of the home. Most of what Landvatter did see was in the side mirror of a car.

Clark called that admission by Landvatter "the most disturbing" part of the documents.

"The city has continually described [the raid] as a mistake," Clark said. "It's not a mistake when an officer swears out a false warrant."

Landvatter also told investigators he felt pressure from his supervisors to obtain and serve a search warrant once a month. He referred to the requirement as a "quota." The review board report called that "a very poor policy," but said it did not contribute significantly to the incorrect raid.

Salt Lake City Police Department spokeswoman Lara Jones declined to discuss the findings due to what she said was a claim filed against the city. It was unclear to what claim she was referring. Landvatter did not respond to a request for an interview sent through Jones.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle